G Sampath | Saturday, February 4, 2012
I am so enraged that I can barely even type. I am absolutely, gloriously, magnificently appalled that someone of the stature of Imran Khan should have the gall to suggest that Sachin Tendulkar should have retired after the 2011 World Cup. How dare he even suggest that Sachin should ever retire! Does God retire? For Indian cricket fans — every single one of whom is also a loyal Sachin fan — this is the moral and cricketing equivalent of someone outraging their modesty. That too in public. And for free.

If I was a lumpen element and could get a visa to Pakistan I would personally ransack Imran Khan’s office for offending my religious sentiment.

Really, does Imran have any idea what Sachin means for India? Is he aware that every time Sachin goes out to bat, he carries a billion hopes on his helmet? Is he aware that no Indian cares whether India wins a match or not so long as Sachin scores a hundred? And this is when you are speaking of a ‘normal’ Sachin hundred.

But what is at stake today is not any Sachin century but Sachin’s hundredth hundred! Can Imran imagine how many orgasms an Indian cricket fan gets by merely contemplating this feat? Does he not know that a billion Indians forget all their problems, such as poverty, corruption, and parking space, the moment they see Sachin on screen — even if it is only Sachin poking and prodding at a fifth-rate spinner on a first-rate batting track? Does he know how many Indian commentators and sports writers have made their careers by praising Sachin endlessly and tirelessly? Does he now expect them to start sucking up to some callow youngster who is less than half their age and doesn’t know how to respect elders?

Imran Khan is wise enough to know these things, which is why I find it hard to understand his comment. And it’s not just Imran. Last week, the former Indian bowling coach, Bruce Reid, remarked that all three — Sachin, Dravid, and Laxman — should retire so that India can groom youngsters for a strong team in the future. Hello! When will the world understand that in India cricket is not a team game? The two teams that play are merely a sporting framework, a platform, where individuals go out and create personal milestones, break records, and keep playing till such time that there are friends in the board who can ensure you keep getting selected, and friends in the media who will raise such a stink if you are dropped that no selector will dare drop you.

Besides, the three oldies have given their services to India for so many years now that the BCCI cannot be so ungrateful as to sack them just because they have stopped performing. You cannot force someone to retire on the basis of such flimsy reasons as lack of fitness or lack of form. And to insinuate that a player should retire just because he is getting old betrays the worst form of ageist prejudice.

Come to think of it, the double standards we apply to our cricketers are scandalous. While every other profession enjoys a retirement age of 58, why should our players not play till they are 58? Imagine how many more centuries Tendulkar can score if he played till 2032! Not less than 400! And if we are getting so excited over his hundredth hundred, imagine how fantastic it will be if Sachin (who has never hit a 400, by the way, though the mediocre Brian Lara has) scores a quadruple century of centuries!

As it happens, India is not scheduled to play any Tests abroad for the next two years, which means there is no urgency for the oldies to retire at least for the next two years. And if we don’t play abroad ever again, they don’t need to retire at all — ever!

That is why I believe that from now on India should play only at home. If we do that, and if the BCCI has the foresight to schedule Test matches only against Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Holland, Canada, and Uzbekistan, I am sure Sachin will be able to play till he is 58 and acquire more milestones than anyone else in the history of not just cricket, but of any sport — he can become the one sportsman with more records to his name than any sportsman in any sport anywhere in the world at any time, beginning with the Olympics of ancient Greece. In fact, why restrict his greatness to the field of sport — he can even become the one human being with more records to his name than any human being who ever lived or lives or will live. Imagine how proud it will make all of us Indians!

But it’s not enough even if we continue to select him for the Indian team till the general retirement age of 58. We should give him special extensions till he is 100 years old. The crowning glory of his career, and the mother of all his records, will be when Sachin — with the help of a walking stick if need be — becomes the first man in the history of the universe to score a hundred at the age of 100. What a stupendous record that will be! Of course, that is assuming he would have got his hundredth hundred by the time he is 100. But even thinking about this gives me goose bumps in my tennis elbow.

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